Untreated Mental Health and Substance Use Issues are Killing America’s Young People

Jul 24, 2023 | Uncategorized

This article includes the topic of suicide.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call, text, or chat with the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.

“The kids are not all right,” warned NPR last year in a story about the escalating mental health crisis among America’s youths. As we recently reported in this blog, suicides among young people increased by an alarming 62 percent between 2007 and 2021. 

In her latest book, Generations, author and psychology professor Jean Twenge pointed out that Gen Z members born between 1995-2012 are twice as likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, twice as likely to be clinically depressed, and twice as likely to take their own lives as teens and young adults compared to millennials at the same age. 

Six years ago, Dr. Twenge warned in her previous book iGen, that members of Gen Z or iGen “are at the forefront of the worst mental health crisis in decades, with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011.”

Now, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and the Director of National Drug Control Policy Rahul Gupta added their voices again to the many dire warnings about the crisis.

“Every day brings more evidence that our nation’s youth are facing a mental health crisis: rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts among young people are on the rise, and so are adolescent deaths from drug poisoning,” wrote Murthy and Gupta in an op-ed on USA Today

“By late 2021, the number of adolescents dying from drug poisoning each month had more than doubled, with 84 percent of these deaths involving illicit fentanyl, including fake prescription pills. Two out of every 5 of these young people also had mental health issues.”

Despite the shocking numbers, “almost none of the people ages 12–17 who had both a mental health condition and a substance use disorder received care for both conditions. Stigma against these conditions, barriers to care, and families not knowing where to turn for help all played a role,” wrote Drs. Gupta and Murthy. 

“As physicians, we’ve seen how the twin crises of untreated mental illness and unsafe substance use are killing young people and tearing families apart across America. These are driven by the deadliest drug supply we’ve ever seen and the fact that too few young people have access to the prevention and care that we know can help.”

In their op-ed, Drs. Gupta and Murthy offer some advice for parents on how to spot warning signs in their children’s behavior. “If you’re a parent, you can look for warning signs, such as sudden or extreme changes in your children’s behavior, sleep patterns, dietary practices, social engagement, or educational performance. You can open a conversation with your kids about the risks of substance use, and about the importance of caring for their mental health and well-being, just as we both have with our own kids.”

Parents can also talk with their pediatrician about screening for substance use and mental health conditions, and if needed, treatment options. “As a nation, we know how to address the twin crises of untreated mental illness and unsafe substance use, and by working together, we can provide families with access to lifesaving treatment, prevent substance use and drug poisoning and suicide deaths, and ensure young people have the tools they need to thrive.”

Providing young people and their families with the tools they need to thrive is a core aspect of the Avanti Behavioral Health mission. The new treatment option for teenagers at risk recently launched an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for clients between the ages of 13 and 18 in Greenwood Village, Colorado. 

The treatment program at Avanti Behavioral Health has been created with a focus on individualized care for each client. Each participant in the program receives a completely customized treatment process and each phase of the process is assessment driven. Our overall mission is to provide comprehensive, holistic, family-centered, and trauma-informed care for teens. 

We believe that recovery from a substance use disorder is a process that should involve the entire immediate family. We have developed an effective and highly involved method of family counseling. For more information about our IOP and family programming call us at (720) 753-4030. 

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